Counseling, Not Protesting

by Ed Whelan

Various folks on the Left were upset when Justice Scalia, at the oral argument in McCullen v. Coakley, objected to the state attorney’s characterization of Eleanor McCullen and her co-petitioner “sidewalk counselors” as “protestors.” So it’s worth highlighting that the four liberal justices all signed on to an opinion that likewise states that sidewalk counselors cannot “fairly be described as protestors”:

Some of the individuals who stand outside Massachusetts abortion clinics are fairly described as protestors, who express their moral or religious opposition to abortion through signs and chants or, in some cases, more aggressive methods such as face-to-face confrontation. Petitioners take a different tack. They attempt to engage women approaching the clinics in what they call “sidewalk counseling,” which involves offering information about alternatives to abortion and help pursuing those options. Petitioner Eleanor McCullen, for instance, will typically initiate a conversation this way: “Good morning, may I give you my literature? Is there anything I can do for you? I’m available if you have any questions.” If the woman seems receptive, McCullen will provide additional information. McCullen and the other petitioners consider it essential to maintain a caring demeanor, a calm tone of voice, and direct eye contact during these exchanges. Such interactions, petitioners believe, are a much more effective means of dissuading women from having abortions than confrontational methods such as shouting or brandishing signs, which in petitioners’ view tend only to antagonize their intended audience. In unrefuted testimony, petitioners say they have collectively persuaded hundreds of women to forgo abortions. [Emphasis added.]

Too bad that Judge Posner, before spewing his deranged comments, didn’t read the opinion carefully enough to understand what was involved.

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